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New Jersey's Transportation Legacy: Cheap Gas, Bad Roads and Bridges

NPR reports on the incipient movement among a dozen states considering raising gas taxes. It centers on New Jersey which arguably illustrates best the need to raise gas taxes to maintain roads and bridges, but it won't be easy, as the interviews show
February 13, 2015, 5am PST | Irvin Dawid
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“In Franklin Township, N.J., one bridge closed abruptly last month when it was deemed unsafe,” writes and states (in the radio version below) Joel Rose of NPR. And it wasn't the first bridge to close this year due to unsafe conditions.

"It's living proof that what we've been saying is correct," says Tom Bracken, head of New Jersey's Chamber of Commerce [See his opinion piece.] Of about 600 "structurally deficient bridges in New Jersey, there are some that, right now, are very dangerous," he says.

However, New Jersey is not nearly alone, and now, thanks to a $1.09 price drop, almost 33%, in gas prices since this time last year, Carl Davis with the Institution of Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) says at least a dozen states are talking about raising gas taxes — including some you might not expect,

"Iowa, South Carolina, Tennessee — these states haven't seen their gas tax rate go up in over a quarter century [see new chart]," says Davis. [All have Republican governors and Republican-majority legislatures].

"Nobody wants to raise a tax," [Republican] Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said  on C-SPAN last month. "My gosh, that's the worst thing you can do as a politician. But the practical realities are, we've got to do something."

Herbert isn't the only Republican governor who's reached that conclusion. In South Carolina, Gov. Nikki Haley has proposed raising the gas tax — but only if she also gets big cuts to the state's income tax.

"In New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie has said all options are on the table to deal with the state's transportation woes," states Rose. Under a proposal by Democratic Assembly Deputy Speaker John S. Wisniewski (D-Middlesex), chair of the Assembly Transportation Committee, the state's 14.5-cent gas tax, unchanged since 1988 and lowest in the nation after Alaska, could jump as much as 25 cents.

According to CityLab's Eric Jaffe, Garden State motorists pay only a penny per gallon when adjusted for inflation, "about half as much as they did in 1927...when the state first levied a gas tax."

However, as an article posted on the Chamber's website indicates, Christie omitted discussing the need to replenish the state's Transportation Trust Fund in his State of the State address last month. Unless new revenues are found, the trust fund will have run out of cash for new or ongoing projects by July 1, writes Larry Higgs of NJ Advance Media for NJ.com.

Perhaps the best part of Rose's piece are his illuminating interviews with N.J. motorists, some of whom are adamantly opposed to raising the gas tax. Rather than being viewed as primarily a roads tax, they are viewed as middle class taxes, which they say are high enough.

Full Story:
Published on Tuesday, February 10, 2015 in NPR
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